April 21st, 2011

Google updates: Panda/Farmer

Over recent weeks the internet has been alive with commentary on Google’s recent changes to its search algorithms, labelled by some as “farmer” and others as “panda”. The changes that were initiated in the USA are now permeating Google sites worldwide with changes now evident on google.co.uk. Some of these changes are perceived to be having a devastating effect on websites who are seeing traffic levels fall by up to 90%.

The SEO implications

For a bit of background, “farmer” and “panda” are the same thing, explained in detail here – http://searchengineland.com/google-forecloses-on-content-farms-with-farmer-algorithm-update-66071 and http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/03/the-panda-that-hates-farms/ (Summary: “content farms” were the initial target, hence the name “farmer” while “panda” was Google’s code name for the very same update).  However, in the UK, it is often referred to as the latter.

The principal impact of the changes appears to be a downgrading of many of the most used article repositories, such as Ezine articles and Suite101, which has in turn had a knock-on effect on businesses that interact with these sites as part of their SEO strategy. For years, the SEO mantra has been ‘content is king’, which lead many sites to add as much templated content as possible to their site (and towards their site), often overlooking the quality of the source. This artificial inflation of a site’s amount of content now leaves them vulnerable to plummeting rankings and the associated ramifications.

Our take on the Panda update (Reform UK)

With the advent of the Panda update, we’ve seen a considerable shift in the type of sites being affected. Even those sites with significant brand authority have seen a large drop in visibility, resulting in a drop in traffic. For information sites this is problematic, but for e-commerce sites, this can be catastrophic.

The primary targeting has been towards uniform content on sites, such as articles that have been syndicated on sites which have no other content. However, it’s not just the sites that syndicate, it’s also their primary sources of content, the articles sites which have taken significant hits. Even for those sites that do not syndicate content, sites that rely solely on strategies like this for link building and that use templates for elements like product pages seem to be suffering as well.

Well known sites like Play.com have lost around 10% of their visibility and the associated level of traffic. This is possibly a very low level indicator that the real world weight of brands could be having less of an impact on their search rankings. There have also been a large number of well-regarded tech sites seeing significantly decreased rankings, such as Techworld & Techradar.

Our take on the Farmer / Panda update (Reform USA)

Names aside, all of these updates (Farmer, Panda, Caffeine, even Google Florida) are similar in many ways but from an SEO perspective it is important to understand that the changes will impact on a number of strategies.

Many websites rely on “tried and true” strategies and continue with them because they have brought positive results in the past.  In particular site owners have a had a penchant for allowing users to add content at will, which in turn helps make the site larger / more content rich and therefore more favourable to Google.

Other sites will automate content and templates to bulk up the site and catch keywords.  Another possibility is that they will see that a certain link strategy (whether ethical or not is not the question here for once) brings them good returns and stick with it.

However the recent changes to at Google suggest that while content may still be king, they are taking a much more qualitative view on the value of content and so webmasters and their SEO advises need to wise up to the changes.

How to counter the losses – 5 key points:

  1. Think long term strategy, not short term fixes
  2. Don’t keep using out-dated strategies
  3. Do your research thoroughly
  4. Constantly innovate in your optimization
  5. Audit your content

Reform has worked with a number of clients around the world developing long term and flexible strategies that maximise the benefit of existing content and infrastructure while providing an ability to move with the times.

Reform can also help you to move forwards with a balanced and ethical SEO approach that is in tune with your strategic goals in other marketing channels including profile building and social media.